It’s the last day of my Peace Corps service in my village, Karanggeger. I feel overwhelmed. I’m not sure if I’m properly going about saying goodbye to everyone. I dislike ‘goodbyes’ and would prefer to slip out of the village on my own, unknown to others. But that would be rude in most cultures. I’ve visited my kepala desa (village head) and teachers at school for the last times. We talked about my future plans, returning to America via Europe, starting graduate school in August, and meeting my family as soon as I touch down in the U.S. Some people asked interesting questions – ‘Can I have your shoes?’; ‘What do you think is the best thing about Indonesians after your experience?’; and ‘Will you invite me to your wedding once you find a husband?’
Depending on who was asking, I took the requests for my belongings in stride and gave things away gladly. In all, I’ve given away: dozens of pairs of pants and shirts; my school uniforms; all my batik save one top; six pairs of shoes; a bicycle; a yoga mat; an exercise ball; four towels; three hats; two bags; and countless other sundries. I was surprised with how eagerly and happily people in my village and at my school received these items. To me, they were worn and stretched-out, faded, and unappealing. The the people to whom I gave the items, they were new clothes! New shoes! A new bike! Such gratitude. I have no major issue with tossing things. The more I travel, the easier the adage ‘out with the old, in with the new’ is to approach. In the U.S. I would have had to find a home for things left behind at a shelter or some kind of recycling service. Here, everything I owned, no matter how yellowed from the sun and stretched-out from hand washing it was, is retail worthy! I’m not one to waste and was thrilled that it was so easy to give things away, knowing they would be reused and not thrown in the trash. Coming from a native culture where all material goods are expendable as the next trend sweeps through, living in places like Indonesia remind me of how wasteful Americans are. Everything is reused here because people can’t afford to see reusable goods thrown away. Banners no longer in use? They make rain and sun guards from eating stalls. Old coffee wrappers? They’re woven into handbags. Used water bottles? They become receptacles to sell coconut water.
I think there is a lot I will miss from my life here that I don’t yet fully appreciate. Only when I am back in the crisp clean U.S. will I realize how endeared I was to my grungy, no-rules village. I know I won’t be able to rely on people in the U.S. like I do here. If I ever need anything, from sugar to a watch repairman, all I have to do is ask and what I’m searching for practically appears on my doorstep. People in the U.S. are so busy, I wouldn’t even venture to ask others for help any time of day. Maybe if I let someone know well in advance that I am going to need their help at X:00 on XX date, then I can ask and will receive.
The relaxed atmosphere in Indonesia is also something I will sorely miss as soon as my schedule starts to fill and my personal down time starts to dwindle. Jam Karet, or the Indonesian concept that ‘time is rubber’, infuriates me at times (a bus driver tells you that the bus will leave ‘soon’, you fall asleep for an hour and half on the bus, wake up, and realize the bus still hasn’t moved.), but it sure is nice to know that there’s at least a 30-minute grace period for any event, formal or informal. I’m stress-free here because time is NOT of the essence and time is NOT money in Indonesia. It’s refreshing.
And like most Peace Corps Volunteers who find themselves with plenty of downtime, I get to read all the time. I’ve had the opportunity to embark on the longest, most pleasurable binge of leisurely reading of my life. Two books at a time, finishing a book each week is a fantastic pace for conquering those looming ‘to read’ book lists. I will miss my novels and histories, biographies and essays. That’s not to stay I don’t have time to read in the U.S. but I knock out a mere 10 books per year at most when State-side compared to the dozens of books I’ve downed in Indonesia over the past two years. [A side note on recommended reads from my Peace Corps reading binge. The best works I read while living in my Indonesian village include: The Buru Quartet by Pramoedya Ananta Toer; Love in the Time of Cholera by Marquez; Cutting for Stone by Abraham Vergheese; and Grimus by Salman Rushdie – check them out!]
While there will be many lifestyle changes to mourn once I return to the rich world, there is plenty I am looking forward to in the U.S. I think firstly, I am excited to be unwanted-attention free! As a foreigner in Indonesia, everyone wants a piece of you. I’ve endured 27 months of stares, unwanted questioning, whispers, stalking, and incognito photo taking and I CANNOT WAIT to be on U.S. soil again where no one cares where I’m coming from or where I’m going, what I ate for breakfast or when I will take a husband. The questions in Indonesia can be truly fun cross-cultural exchanges, but 27-months-worth of them has made me exhausted and eager for a breather from being thrown in the ringer around the clock.
And of course food. Food, food, sweet sweet food. And drink. Cheese, nuts, wine, beer, yogurt, olives, and anything with tahini in it. Mexican, Mediterranean, Italian, Indian, French, Moroccan, food is all on my mind and I can’t wait devour the visions of sugar plums that have been dancing in my head since 2012.
I also am looking forward to being a normal 20-something. I love my village but a 6pm involnutary curfew and 0 social life outside of hanging out with the Ibus (women) in the kitchen has made me restless for the hustle and bustle of nightlife. I really enjoy going out, mingling, partying, whatever you want to call it at 25 – I miss it and I want it! That’s not to say that only intriguing things happen when out at bars in the downtowns of America, but there’s always action and entertainment (and in my native tongue to boot!) and I’m craving all of it.
I’ve wrapped up my Peace Corps service on high notes. I don’t feel rushed to say goodbye to everyone but I have an eerie feeling each time I bid adieu to a loved friend here. The eeriness comes from the thought that I may never see them again. For everything that I’ve received from others while in Indonesia, I feel that I’ve given back a mere fraction. I’ve given two farewell speeches at my school – one to students and one to teachers – where I tried my best to express my gratitude and hope that they understand that I meant well and any misunderstandings came from crossed cultural wires. I don’t know if the listeners understood my sentiments, but hopefully if the words didn’t hit them, the tears I shed at the ends of both speeches assured them that I care, I have gained, and I feel love for them.
Peace Corps Indonesia has been quite the ride! I never could have made it without an amazingly supportive Peace Corps Staff, an unfathomably giving host community, and my rock star fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. All good things come to an end. Selalu di hatiku, Indonesia raya 🙂